A lot of so-called deluxe DVDs amount to press releases on silver platters: They force-feed you propaganda about what a great movie you just bought or rented. Not this two-disc set. In a commentary track assembled circa 1992 for a deluxe laserdisc package (which this set reproduces and slightly expands with extra behind-the-scenes footage), several of the movie’s principals — mainly producer/star Kirk Douglas, novelist Howard Fast, and costar Peter Ustinov — voice all sorts of honest, indiscreet, and resolutely uncensored remarks about what Spartacus is, should have been, and might have been.
Fast, who got fired when he couldn’t adapt his novel about a Roman slave uprising quickly enough, credits Douglas for having the ”enormous drive” to get the movie made, but also chides him as ”an exhibitionist…the complexities of a human being are never really present in his acting.” Producer Edward Lewis cops to Spartacus being ”not a great film, but a good film” and details how director Anthony Mann was replaced (Lewis says Mann asked to be sacked, declaring ”This picture will kill me”). Mann’s replacement, Stanley Kubrick, was still alive when this commentary was produced, but didn’t participate, since the auteur disowned Spartacus as a work-for-hire misfire later in life — an attitude Douglas says he ”resented.”
A second disc offers a trove of additional reminiscences and extras, including in-depth material on the Hollywood blacklist and how it began to crumble after Douglas hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to replace Fast. What a thumbs-up pleasure to feel you’re watching history instead of hype.